Arun Ram & Chethan Kumar,TNN | Sep 24, 2014, 07.42 AM IST
CHENNAI/BANGALORE: India created history on Wednesday, becoming the first country to successfully get a spacecraft into the Martian orbit on its maiden attempt.
Indian Space Research Organisation’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft started orbiting the red planet at 7.47am, but it was only 12 minutes later —because of a time delay in radio signals travelling the 680 million km — that scientists at Isro Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network in Bangalore, could erupt in joy as Prime Minister Narendra Modi stood a happy witness.
For most of the time the main engine was firing — 20 of the 24 crucial minutes — MOM was hiding behind Mars, adding to the suspense.
The scientists had waited for more than 300 days as MOM journeyed on through space, but the last 54 minutes were virtually unbearable. For, it was during this period that the orbiter first reoriented itself and then fired its engine and thrusters for about 24 minutes to get into the Mars orbit.
For all the action at the ground station, there was not much the scientists had to do. More than 10 days ago, they had uplinked all the commands for the manoeuvres to the spacecraft. MOM, like an obedient child, carried them out perfectly.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the Isro scientists over the success.
“MOM never disappoints,” he told applauding scientists at the Isro Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network in Bangalore.
“India is the first country to get this right in the first attempt,” he said.
Modi turned philosophical while talking about the scientific achievement. “Jab kaam mangal hota hai, irade mangal hote hain, tho yaatra bhi mangal hota hai (When the task is holy, and so is the intention, the journey has to be a success),” he said.
Congratulating and prodding on Indian space scientists, he went on: “Unless you enter the waters you don’t learn to swim. Risk tho lena hi padtha hai (You have to take risks,” he said.
He urged the scientists to continue to inspire the future generation. “Despite our many limitations, we have succeeded. It is a shining symbol of what we are capable of as a nation … A successful space programme generates efforts across multiple domains,” Modi said.
Switching between English and Hindi, the Prime Minister said the scientists were changing our lives and speed of achievement.
For many months — if not years — MOM will remain a satellite of Mars, clicking pictures and sniffing out details on the atmosphere and morphology of the red planet.
Through its journey since November 5, 2013 when PSLV-C25 lifted off from Sriharikota with the spacecraft in its nosecone, MOM has had a perfect journey. The first litmus test came on Monday when it was to carry out time-tagged commands to reignite its main engine which had been idling for about 300 days since it left the Earth orbit on December 1, 2013. MOM did this in style, burning for the designated four seconds to show that the engine is in fine shape. On Wednesday, it proved its resilience.
As it goes around Mars on an elliptical orbit with the closest point around 420km and the farthest around 80,000km, MOM will employ five equipment that collectively weight 15kg to do scientific studies.
The Lyman alpha photometer would measure the relative abundance of deuterium and hydrogen in the upper Martian atmosphere to understand previous presence of water on the red planet. A methane sensor will look for sources of the gas. While the Mars colour camera clicks away, a thermal infrared spectrometer will study heat emission, minerals and soil on Mars.
Before India, various countries have launched Mars missions, but out of the 51 attempts, only 21 were successful. India now joins the Martian club that comprises the US, Russia and the European Space Agency. Only the European Space Agency has got its orbiter right in the first attempt (Mars Express in 2003), but India can claim a first since the agency is a conglomeration of several countries.